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Decisions, Decisions . . . Longest Yard Makes for One Tough Call

October 07, 1985|CHRIS DUFRESNE | Times Staff Writer

OK, armchair Don Shulas of the world, you make the call.

Put yourself under Coach Bud Grant's purple baseball cap for a minute and take his spot on the sidelines during the final second of Sunday's game against the Rams.

Your team, the Minnesota Vikings, is down by three points but has the ball on the Ram goal line about a yard away from victory.

You've got some choices. You can:

a) take a swig of Maalox, hand your headset to an assistant and let him make the call.

b) kick a game-tying field goal and take your chances in overtime, or,

c) run your 185-pound tailback into the heart of the NFL's top-rated defense against the rush.

Did you pick C?

So did Bud Grant, who said he'd make the same decision in a minute even if it meant another 13-10 loss to the Rams.

When Grant emerged to face the press, he was as stoic as ever. You couldn't tell whether he had just lost a tough game or won the lottery.

But why on earth didn't he kick the field goal?

"It was the percentage play," Grant said dryly. "We could have gone out there in overtime and lost the toss and we might not have ever seen the ball again."

But haven't you been reading the papers? No one scores on the ground against the Rams this year.

"That had nothing to do with it," Grant said.

Grant said it was an easy decision to go for the touchdown. Or was it?

The truth is, the Vikings had a first down at the Rams' 1 1/2-yard line with one second left when quarterback Tommy Kramer tried to hit Steve Jordan in the end zone for a touchdown.

But Ram cornerback Gary Green had a rodeo hold on Jordan and was called for pass interference.

This call changed the Vikings strategy, Grant said.

The penalty moved the ball about a foot closer to the one-yard line.

Had the pass been incomplete, Grant said he probably would have summoned Jan Stenerud to attempt the field goal.

But gaining that extra foot made all the difference to Grant. Suddenly, it was time to run.

Then shortly after Nelson was handed the ball he was met by Ram linebacker Jim Collins. Game, set and match went to Collins.

"We had a chance to win and we had to go for it," said Viking back Ted Brown, Nelson's lead blocker on the final play. "It was just a stalemate. I was at the bottom of the pile and he (Nelson) was still one and a half yards from the goal line."

All sorts of problems other than the Rams defense awaited the Vikings on the final play.

First, there was the Anaheim Stadium crowd, so loud that Vikings offensive linemen couldn't hear the snap count.

"Normally, the offensive line has the advantage in this situation," Nelson said. "But when the quarterback and the center are the only ones who know the snap count, it takes away the advantage."

Guard Brent Boyd said he had to wait until he saw the ball being snapped before moving.

Tackle Tim Irwin concurred. And, there was the loose footing around the goal line.

With the Angels' playoff chances still undecided as of Saturday night, the infield portion of the field had not yet been re-sodded.

And that's right where the Vikings were sitting with one second left.

"We had all the momentum going," Nelson said. "I thought we had a chance. But the dirt was really hard there and I couldn't get much traction."

Still, there was no second guessing in the Minnesota locker room. The players wanted to win or lose the game right there in the dirt.

"I'm glad we decided to go for the victory," Kramer said. "I thought we could make it. But the Rams got pretty good penetration.

"You know, we're in this game to win, that's why we play, but it gives us confidence in our minds that we can play with the best in the league."

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